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Another tender? This time the investor is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

22 of December '20

Before the end of the year, which was undoubtedly full of surprises, it is worth taking a look at a non-obvious issue related to the announcement of a tender, or as the investor prefers to call it, a request for proposal, concerning an architectural and urban design concept, which appeared at the end of November on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The inquiry concerns the preparation of an architectural and urban planning concept for the development of a plot of land at 3/5 Armii Ludowej Avenue with an office building for the needs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The invitation to tender has caused a stir in the architectural community due to the fact that it is in the nature of a tender and not a competition, which should be a standard procedure for public investments.

price criterion

As we will read in the request for proposals for the contract, the price criterion will be the only criterion for the selection of bids. However, in the updated inquiry, this criterion has changed, as experience has also been included, with the latter to account for 40 percentage points, while the price criterion continues to prevail, reaching 60 percentage points in the evaluation. In addition, the contract completion date is to be 90 days from the date of signing the contract. With regard to the original version of the request, Maciej Lobos, CEO of MWM Architects, expressed his position, writing:

"The only form accepted in civilized countries for selecting architectural solutions and shaping urban space is an ARCHITECTURAL COMPETITION. This applies especially to public procurement, which should be the determinant of how to care for the common good, which is the space around us. There is probably no one today who does not understand that nature should be approached with reasonable care and respect. An analogous situation exists in the case of the surrounding urban space. Space, like nature, affects health, the quality of human relationships, how efficiently we work or how our children learn. It also affects many other factors, such as a sense of security or something as mundane as infrastructure costs. As Winston Churchill once summed it up - "we shape our buildings, and they shape us."
The cavalier attitude toward the urban space that provides the framework for the lives of all of us is as scandalous as the activities of a businessman who, out of stupidity or calculation, lets untreated sewage into rivers or exhaust fumes into the air, explaining that taking care of the environment increases his cost of doing business.If someone doesn't have this awareness, they should consult professionals, or they shouldn't even go near investments that will result in changes to the environment we live in, especially when it involves public investments.
Organizing a TENDER for creative design work according to the most crude and simplistic criterion, which is price, is an example of activity native to third world countries. In the case of any creative activity, the price criterion is the worst possible criterion and ALWAYS results in the WORST solutions. Would it occur to you to organize a TENDER FOR COMPOSITION OF THE NEW HYMN OF POLAND ?! Alternatively, would you organize such a tender according to the principle of "Design and Build", in which the participants would be printers who would co-opt themselves to the team of composers?
The result of such actions, to which you may have unwittingly put your hand, is the progressive degradation of the environment in Polish cities, the lack of respect for culture and human labor, and the creation of an image of Poland as a country of ignorant and uncultured people. The result of bad procedures is always bad solutions. Saving on the design and investment preparation process, is saving on human thinking. The result is always disastrous solutions, cost overruns in implementation, high maintenance costs and a general (unthinkable in the private sector) waste of the public penny."

recognizing the potential of the property

When asked to comment on the matter, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied that the initiated procedure is not a procurement carried out under a tender procedure, but only a request for proposal, aimed at recognizing the actual potential of the property. The spokesman also pointed out the existing constraints in this location, arising from the local development plan, conservation protection, the difficulty of fully implementing fire regulations, and, finally, the location on a de facto slope at the back of the main MFA building on J. Ch. Szucha Avenue. And in connection with this, the architectural studios concerned were invited to present variant solutions that would give an idea of the possible development and its future costs. In addition, there was an argument concerning the current situation of the state budget in the reality of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, which requires particularly careful management of public funds. In this context, the ombudsman stresses, priority is given to pro-growth measures, creating appropriate and sufficiently rapid impulses for those sectors that are able to operate despite sanitary restrictions with the construction industry at the forefront.

new competition regulations

At this point, however, one has to wonder about the dilution of the issue of the MFA's position, first with regard to the aforementioned price criterion, which was originally the only criterion, but was eventually supplemented by experience. Secondly, explaining that in fact the MFA's inquiry is not in the nature of a tender. The argumentation related to the budget in the face of the pandemic places us back at the starting point, which is the price criterion. The circumstances surrounding the pandemic should not, after all, have the final say on the question of the quality of the expansion of public space. Of course, an architectural competition is a time-consuming procedure, but this time is necessary to achieve the best result by comparing designs. It is also worth noting that with the beginning of the new year, a new law will take effect, concerning the public procurement law of September 11, 2019, which significantly modifies the existing regulations on competitions. Accordingly, holding a competition will be an obligation in the case of architectural or architectural-construction design, if the project contains creative solutions within the meaning of the Law on Copyright and Related Rights of February 4, 1994. In other words, next year, holding a competition for the design of the new MFA building would be mandatory, which would explain the rush to the current request for proposals.

a much overstated response?

Maciej Lobos appealed to the MFA that if worthwhile solutions were to be the goal, then the Association of Polish Architects should be approached to help prepare an architectural competition and select the winner. A spokesman for the MFA, meanwhile, says that the reaction of part of the architectural community seems highly exaggerated and disproportionate to the MFA's intentions. Meanwhile, a decision on further steps, including the design phase, will be made based on the results of the resulting concept. At this stage, the MFA does not rule out any scenario, nor does it prejudge any. The tender scenario is, of course, a "tempting" scenario, but only for the investor, because it is cheaper and faster, saving the MFA the time needed to organize the competition. However, the ultimate issue, which will result in years to come, is the question of quality, seemingly unarguable in this case. Especially since the MFA building, the headquarters of Polish diplomats, should be the best possible designed building and a showcase for all of us, politicians and Poles. And what can be expected from a "request for proposal", where the lowest price is the selection criterion?

Katarzyna Oczkowska

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